Home » Thoughts and Musings » Thomas M. Tuerke on Technology »
Table of Contents [show/hide]

Top Level Boondoggle

Earlier this week in Singapore, the ICANN, that top-level governing body of internet names, brought forth a stinker of a plan.

On the surface, it seemed like an interesting idea: up until now, all websites ended with one of a handful of endings—called Top Level Domains, or TLDs—with which we're familiar: .com, .org, .net, and .gov, along with some less familiar (to US users of the internet, anyway) country-code TLDs, such as .us, .ca, .de, .ws, .tv, etc, each governed by its own local second-level domain registrar. They reasoned that, with the internet having matured to the state it has, why not open the TLD space up to anybody and any TLD? So, in addition to all of the above, it might someday be possible to visit not just http://coke.com, but, say, http://cherry.coke. Cherry idea, no?

The ICANN reasonably concluded that, while opening the ranks of TLDs is doable, joining the ranks of TLD registrars is best left only to those with a serious commitment, plus the financial and technical wherewithal to oversee the registration of what may likely be billions of domain names. The upshot being that one obstacle to membership into the exclusive world of your own TLD is to pay the ICANN a princely sum of ... wait for it ... $185,000. One hundred eighty-five thousand dollars.

The presented rationale for the go-ahead was to open up the internet for ideas yet to be conceived (of which they seemed to have conceived of a few.)

One cited example was given as thus: suppose Canon registered, say .canon as a TLD (cha-ching: $185,000 to ICANN.) With that, they could own the entire .canon space (unlike today, where they merely "rent" canon.com, one supposes.) Then let's say that they place chips into their cameras, which would automatically bind to some second level domain, and pictures could be automatically uploaded to that domain. Or let's say they wanted to grab up the generic name .camera (cha-ching) and have the pictures posted there...

Imagine that: give a camera to granny, and you could automatically see her pictures at mygrannys.camera. Let's leave aside the orwellian/facebookish issues of IP ownership, or even the more mundane matter of "too much information." It's not clear that the new TLD offers you anything that can't already be done today, with the addition of three letters and a dot.

Specifically, third level domains are already under the complete control of the domain name owner, and while under-exploited (with the exception of that trite obsolescence www.) we nonetheless see them around: blogspot.com, for example, doles them out for each of its blogs. There's no reason why those same in-camera chips can't offer a solution like mygrannys.camera.com (assuming Canon got camera.com.)

Or for a stronger brand presence (and avoiding the tussle to get the more generic domain) Canon might instead decide to post pictures to mygrannys.canon.com.


Without forking over a chunk of change.

In this respect, I have to agree with a previous president of ICANN: they're not really adding any new capabilities, short of stripping off four or so characters from domain names. It's a solution in search of a problem.

My take is that there will be an initial rush to claim some vanity TLDs (and why do I suspect that .porn will be among them?) plus maybe a smallish set of generally useful TLDs. Thereafter, the furor will likely die down, trend lemmings notwithstanding. Once the novelty wears off, I'm guessing that the price of admission will temper the vanity of many corporations and other entities. Let's face it: $185,000 amounts to over 5,200 years of .com domain registrations at a rediculously high price of $35 per year ... or several hundred hours of attorney's fees in an attempt to wrestle away a domain name held by somebody else ... or a very tempting carrot if they wanted to play nice and buy it instead.

Now one possible real benefit of this new decision is that the new TLDs don't need to be in "white man's ASCII" anymore; the TLDs can theoretically be any characters in any language. Where I'm guessing we'll see the most traction is in governments (and/or private parties) applying for native-language domain names. I suspect the netizens of China will see hanyu domains under the TLD .中国 very soon.